the voices in my head

January 24, 2014

the voices in my head

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photos:
1) ladies’ room in the rackham building, i love that there are still fainting couches in this old ladies’ room
2) my daughter’s new product proposal: wigs for dogs
3) lynda barry’s “picture this”

I listened to an old Vancouver Writer’s Fest podcast this week titled, Comic Book Confidential: Lynda Barry and Sarah Leavitt.

I fell in love with Lynda Barry’s Ernie Pook’s Comeek when I was in college and discover it in the back of the Metro Times (alongside Matt Groening’s pre-Simpsons cartoon, Life in Hell). My flame for Lynda Barry continues to burn bright.

While listening to the podcast I felt like Lynda was speaking directly to me when she spoke of the negative voices that sound in her head when she sits down to write and draw.

I hear the exact same voices whenever I am writing this blog:

“‘Where’s that gonna get you? That’s stupid. You could be cleaning.’”

Lynda says, “Okay, If I was in a bar and some dude came up to me and went, ‘That’s stupid. Where’s that gonna get you? You could be cleaning,’ I’d know he was an ass, right? But when he’s in my head, it’s the voice of reason. When did that happen?!”

She says that this is a product of our looking at our creative endeavors as a product that is either good or bad. She advises instead to look at your creative endeavors as a process, as the expression of experience, as something that helps us “grow more neurons” and cultivates the feeling that “live is worth living.”

I’m not sure how easy that will be to do in practice, particularly when we post our work publically, via performances, art shows or blogs. But picturing the negative voice in my head as a drunken barfly, who provides unsolicited, negative comments, may make it easier to dismiss it.

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photo 111: assignment 6, unusual angle

Photo 111: assignment 6, unusual angle

photos:
1) a birds nest in the top door of my mother’s barn.
didn’t that male bird make it fancy for the ladies? i wonder if he was successful or if they all avoided him for being odd. or if his special lady friend slapped him upside the head and said, “why don’t you just put an electric sign on it that says ‘hey cats! there are tasty baby birds right here!’”
2) from under one of my mother’s many bird feeder’s. the slinky is to keep the squirrels out, and it works!
3) a blue birdhouse my dad painted so many years ago, through a knothole in the barn loft. so many reminders of my dad all over the place
4) little hedgehog feet, next to a toaster
5) grumpy, grumpy hedgehog, next to a toaster

Though I’m not sure I was successful at this assignment, I enjoyed it. Changing your angle can turn a mediocre scene into something interesting. But as demonstrated above, finding the right angle takes practice. I’m still learning.

My son says the birdfeeder photo above is not an unusual angle, since we normally view a birdfeeder from below. He’s right. But still, a shot from directly underneath an active bird feeder is unusual. Especially in the winter when you have to lie very still, on a beach towel, in the snow for some time before the birds will come to the feeder.

For my assignment, I turned in the bottom photo of Dandelion, even though it was terrible. So much out of focus. My classmates loved it. Haha. My instructor didn’t. (I posted my daughter’s superior photos of Dandelion in a previous post, hedgehog: real talk, and taken with a small Canon pocket camera.)

High angles, low angles, framing photos through things like branches, are a good way to try out unusual angles.

Here are examples from some amazing pros:
Elliott Erwitt, such a classic, and his dog photos are funny

Arno Rafael Minkkinen, really interesting use of bodies

Vernon Merritt , great photos of 1969 NYC

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photo 111: great depth of field

photos:
1) massimo vitali beach photo
2) helen levitt street photos (so love her photos)
3) john pfahl nature photos

I started writing about my photography class in past posts, and never finished, like so many projects in my life. Sigh. The class ended April. So I thought I would go back to those posts.

There were 12 assignments, I have written about 3 of them (I skipped assignment 3, panning motion, because my photos were so boring and terrible…):

photo 111: assignment 1, he is the eggman
photo 111: assignment 2, stop motion
photo 111: assignment 4, shallow depth of field, and not so shallow barbie

Great depth of field was not one of my favorite assignments, because it required photographing a scene with everything in the photo, from fore to rear, being in acceptable focus. I just couldn’t come up with a scene I liked…It was January in Michigan and everything was dull and grey. Plus, getting the light right was difficult. As I said, January, Michigan, and I didn’t have a tripod at the time.

I posted some of the photos I took for this assignment in one of my earliest posts, snow day. The photos above are much better examples. To be fair, these photographers have pretty amazing cameras and lenses…

When shooting for great depth of field, you need to use the smallest aperture (f-stop) your camera allows, usually f16 or f22. Small referring to opening in the lens, which is a greater number because it’s really a fraction 1/16 and 1/22. So f22 is a smaller aperture then f8. So confusing!

Since you’re using a small aperture, it’s best to photograph on a sunny day so you have enough light. You don’t want to use a shutter speed any slower than 1/60 because that will make your photo fuzzy, unless you use a tripod.

Or you can just point your iphone and click and be happy.

The only classmate photo for this assignment that I can remember was of a tree line across a field of snow. The trees were tall, slender and dark and in nice contrast to the white snow and light grey sky. At first, I thought it was a black and white photo, but no, January in Michigan.

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photos:
1) toys on my office windowsill
2) my old typewriter, I need to get a ribbon for it
3) wooden bunnies, i love they way the two pieces fit together, so simple, i also love the shadows, this was taken for a hard shadow assignment, but it also demonstrates shallow depth of field.

I took my camera outside at lunchtime last week to shoot this beautiful campus in its springtime glory. It took me more than a minute to remember all of the photography skills I had just learned in my photography class, which only ended a couple of weeks ago. Use it or lose it, I guess. So I will continue to review my photo 111 lessons here, with you, my unwilling pupil.

Shallow depth of field was an early assignment, which I felt like I had some success with. (I ended a sentence with a preposition right there. I know.) Shallow depth of field is used when you want an image where only a small part of the photo is in focus. See above.

The aperture is wide open for these shots, which is really counter intuitive isn’t it? You would think that opening up your lens means more light (yes) and more of the image in focus (no).

What I really like with shallow depth of field is that you can still get a good shot on a gray day without a flash or strobe or tripod, because your lens is wide open. Plus I like the way it can emphasize what you want to emphasize in a shot, and leave a little part of the story to unfold as the viewer makes it out.

One girl in my class took a beautiful close up shot of a blond Barbie doll’s face, chin titled sideways and slightly forward, blond pony tail high and sassy, not a hair out of place, lips slightly parted, a cheerful, vacuous look on her flawless face as her brilliant blue eyes stare off into space. The contrast of the blond barbie on the black background was really lovely…but then…there is something in the nearly black background… another Barbie…is she lying down? no wait! She is naked…and her hands and feet bound! What?! Naughty blond Barbie! Maybe that pretty little head is not filled with thoughts of shopping, the dream house and Ken after all. (Wait! I just realized those are the thoughts that fill MY head…well not Ken.)

eggsredtub

eggbook

photo 111: i am the eggman

photos
1) this is the one I matted and turned in: eggs in a tubtrugs bucket with old green onions peeled from the bottom of the vegetable drawer, winter, sunday morning light
2) outtake: egg on “radioactive: marie & pierre curie: a tale of love and fallout” by lauren redniss. redniss is a “graphic biolgrapher” and if you have not seen her books, you should. gorgeous.
3) outtake: eggs in bowl my sister-in-law made. do you think our windows need a little work…ugh.

In January I signed up for an introductory photography class at our local community college. Blogging was a motivator, but also, I was looking for something that would interest my teenage son, something that would get him off of his computer. He was interested, so we signed up together. Since he is only 15, and dyslexic, I wanted to take the class with him to make sure he wasn’t in over his head. Turns out he helps me more than I help him. (Turns out we also have to keep one empty seat between us in class so we don’t argue.)

We have an assignment every week that we edit, print and mount on matte board in class on Monday night. On Wednesday nights in addition to a technical lecture on our camera, or Lightroom, we have a critique. Our work is displayed anonymously and we have to vote on which photos we like the best—with the idea that clusters of votes will help illuminate key elements to a good photograph.

The matted photos are pinned to a bulletinboard/wall and the instructor puts a push pins above each photo that gets votes, one push pin per vote. Then we go in order, from the most push pins to the least talking about our process and getting critiqued.

I have had many weeks with no pins (votes), but two weeks ago my son and I tied for most votes. He gets votes almost every week and frequently gets the most votes. Once I told him it is even more exciting for me, as a mom, when he gets votes, than if I do. His response was, “No! You don’t get to claim credit for my work! No!”

For our egg assignment, we had to take a photo of an egg with the goal of getting a well-exposed, sharp image. I liked my image and technically it was good. But it received no votes from my classmates. My son put his egg on our pool table and had it in the foreground sharply focused and all of the colored pool balls in the background out of focus. He received many votes. One girl broke an egg in the snow and had a small LED flashlight illuminate it from underneath. There was a layer of snow between the egg and the light. The whole critique was really eye opening to me. Think creatively, or, take the egg out of the kitchen.

We only have 3 more weeks left and both my son and I are sad it’s coming to an end. As much as missing the photography class, I will miss the time with my son. He will get his driver’s license at the end of the summer, and it’s clear to me he can handle the classwork on his own. He is planning to take another photography class in the fall, without his mom. Of course, as a mom, I am proud of his growth toward independence, and I will let him know this, at the risk of him accusing me of claiming credit.

foolish thoughts

April 1, 2013

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foolish thoughts

photos (1-4 from the Festifools flickr group http://www.flickr.com/groups/festifools/pool/show/)
1. lovely skeleton
2. ann arbor mayors john hieftje (heeft-ya)
3. audrey
4. green men…or women?
5. wayne white’s LBJ head from http://buy.beautyisembarrassing.com

This Sunday will be the 7th year of the Festifools event in Ann Arbor and I will once again be out of town. Gah!

This crazy University-Ann Arbor Community event is mostly a parade of giant handmade, paper maché puppets/kinetic sculptures, and many silly fools— in celebration of April Fools day. I think most of the spectators are really celebrating spring, art, community and creativity- my favorites!

The event has expanded to include a homemade luminary parade the Friday night before the event, food stalls and I’m not sure what else because I have never attended!

My daughter and I did help with puppet making one year. We mistakenly thought we were volunteering to make our own large puppets, but it turned out we were just paper machéing, for 3 hours, puppets for the students of the UM professor who started the Festifool event. It was fine, everyone involved was really great, but it wasn’t what we had expected.

One of these old days I am going to watch this fool fest. One day I’m going to make a puppet of my own—which anyone is welcome to do, with their own space and resources. Being in the parade isn’t that interesting to me. I would rather watch, but I imagine there are plenty of fools, or festifools, who would be willing to parade around with a puppet.

You see, I have thought about this.

Instead of making a puppet, I might make something like this creature on stilts…but maybe a friendlier version, so as not to make small children cry.

Or I might make something like Wayne White’s LBJ head (above) featured in the documentary, Beauty is Embarassing, which I really, really want to see. (I have only seen the trailer.)

Or maybe something like Fifi, sans the vehicle, made for Baltimore’s Kinectic Sculpture race (which I am also intrigued by!).

I will definitely not be making anything like the puppets from the play War Horse— I’m a hack, not an artist. Have you seen these puppets?! So fascinating you have to remind yourself they’re not real. (There are many youtubes of these puppets, just search War Horse puppets).

These creative images and possibilities will be percolating in my brain until the right time, space and/or enthusiastic conspirator comes along.

I hope that time is before the next Festifools event. I hope that next year, I will be in town to help contribute to the foolishness! I hope to see you there! And I hope, that you will want to carry my puppet.